Drugs and desperation in 60 Minutes case as Lebanon saga continues

By Emma Reynolds

As child recovery agent Craig Michael languishes in a Lebanese jail, his former partners have shared shocking evidence that suggests he was a desperate drug addict with serious mental health issues.

The British-Cypriot tattoo artist, hired by 60 Minutes along with Adam Whittington to carry out the botched abduction in Beirut, claimed in a 2010 court document that he had used hard drugs for years.

A letter from a UK doctor shown to the Cyprus court confirmed the now 36-year-old had been a narcotics user between 2005 and 2007, suffering from problems including anxiety and panic attacks.

In Michael's affidavit, which requested he be excused from paying child support to ex-partner Katerina Dakou for her son, he wrote: "I have no income and no employment. I am not in a position to work because I have been a user of hard drugs for several years.

I suffer from serious mental problems that cause amongst others lack of mnemonic, panic attacks and confusion."

He denied paternity of the child, adding that there had not been a blood or DNA test.

Michael wrote that police had been visiting his Cyprus home daily in an attempt to arrest him, even on the day his Polish girlfriend Marta Swinarska had given birth to their second daughter, causing "immense tension" for her and their 16-month-old elder child.

Things then went very wrong for him and Ms Swinarska too, and she fled to Poland with their youngest daughter, accusing him of domestic violence and drug abuse. Michael says he was not violent.

Australian TV journalist Tara Brown, left, and Sally Faulkner, right, the mother of the two Australian children, sit in a minivan after they released from a Lebanese jail. Photo / AP
Australian TV journalist Tara Brown, left, and Sally Faulkner, right, the mother of the two Australian children, sit in a minivan after they released from a Lebanese jail. Photo / AP

Michael became close to Whittington from Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) when the former soldier helped the father remove Crystal from Poland in 2014. Michael, who previously lived in North London, was portrayed as a hero in the British tabloid press after his recovery of his daughter was filmed for an ITV documentary called Abducted.

But Ms Swinarska, who is trying to recover her daughters from Michael's father in Cyprus while he awaits his fate in Lebanon, tells a different story.

"It was traumatising"

The British documentary painted Ms Swinarska as a kidnapper because she took Crystal from the UK to Poland. But the 30-year-old mother told news.com.au she made the drastic move after Michael had been violent towards her.

She said she was unable to reach her older daughter, Cassie, because Michael had warned the girl's nursery not to let her have contact.

Michael was unable to recover Crystal from Poland through legal means, and - according to Ms Swinarska - he refused to visit her.

Instead, he hired Whittington to snatch the little girl from her grandparents in the street - in similar scenes to those seen in Lebanon.

"It was traumatising for her," said Ms Swinarska. "She was screaming her head off, she didn't know Craig. There were four or five people throwing her to each other like a sack of potatoes.

"My mum was pushed into a concrete pole and blacked out. My dad was blinded, he couldn't breathe.

"His eyes were burnt with pepper spray, it was sprayed directly into their faces. Both are over 50. Both ended up in hospital on oxygen."

Ms Swinarska said she received a call telling her not to look for her children.

"Selfish and lazy"

Another of Michael's exes, Emma Attridge from Hertfordshire in the UK, told news.com.au that her three-year relationship with Michael also ended on bad terms in 2006.

Towards the end, social services were informed, she said. "I couldn't be with him any more and therefore made the decision to end the relationship."

The 34-year-old mum said she was scared her son with Michael would be taken into care if she stayed with the father. But she said since their break-up, he has claimed to be too busy to speak with her son, now 11, and the boy eventually stopped trying to contact him.

Tara Brown and producer Stephen Rice arrive back in Sydney. Photo / Getty Images
Tara Brown and producer Stephen Rice arrive back in Sydney. Photo / Getty Images

Ms Swinarska claims Michael also has another son in Cyprus, who he gave up for adoption and is now in care.

Ms Attridge added: "Craig was a very difficult, selfish and lazy human being.

"I have never received any child maintenance or support from him. He is one of the most manipulative, selfish human beings I have ever come across in my lifetime."

Desperate condition

Ms Attridge said Michael's father Robert, who now lives in Cyprus, had worked for the Metropolitan police in London.

In Craig Michael's 2010 affidavit to the court in Limassol, Cyprus, he wrote: "The fact that we manage to live with dignity is only due to my father's love and support who sends us money from England from the pension he receives there as a retired police officer. Unfortunately though the truth is that now the second baby has arrived my father's support will not be enough to cover even our basic needs and as a result I am in a desperate condition."

But Ms Swinarska feels her situation is desperate, too, fearing for her safety if she moves to Cyprus to see her daughters. "I'm still heartbroken," she said. "It's the worst thing for any mother to be ripped out of her child's life.

"They don't know who I am. My older daughter says I'm not her mother. It's emotional.

"They've [Whittington and Michael have] destroyed my life. They've been destroying every family they're trying to help."

Back home in Brisbane, having relinquished all rights to the two children she tried to recover from Lebanon, Sally Faulkner might agree.

- news.com.au

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